(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) Arlington County has taken a proposed update to its child care regulations off its website after County Board members called the inclusion of certain controversial provisions “troubling.”
As ARLnow.com first reported Monday, the most recent draft of the child care regulations would have required child care centers to encourage mothers to breastfeed and would have dictated what type of milk, juice and birthday treats could be fed to children, among other provisions.
That’s in addition to new staffing and employee education requirements that panicked the operators of small and part-time child care centers, who said such rules would put them out of business or at least drive up the cost of daycare and preschool programs.
“This situation, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s really the most troubled roll-out of a county initiative since the ill-conceived and ill-fated Public Land for Public Good,” said County Board member John Vihstadt. “I really think that this is close to an unmitigated disaster. If our goal is to increase the supply and the affordability of child care throughout Arlington County, this in my view seems to do exactly the opposite.”
Anita Friedman, Director of Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services, said the creation of the new regulations is an “iterative” process that has been underway since 2014, with input from directors of child care centers and consultation from a Kentucky-based nonprofit association.
Despite what she described as a positive public outreach process, Friedman acknowledged that there has been “a lot” of negative feedback, particularly from owners of smaller child care centers and the parents who use them.
“There are some issues with the current version,” she told the Board. “In some places, I think, because some of the enthusiasm of the child care centers and our Arlington Way of striving for the best, we may have probably overreached in terms of the best practices that we want to incorporate in there, that don’t belong in the code.”
That didn’t satisfy new County Board member Katie Cristol, who included affordable child care as part of her policy platform. She called the inclusion of some of the provisions “silly season business.”
“At a time when we have young families leaving this county because it costs as much if not more to have your child in daycare as it does to pay rent… I think we have broader concerns than making sure kids have the absolute best environment,” Cristol said.
“This is really troubling to see this level of best practice conflated with code and with regulation,” she continued. “I am not comfortable inserting unbidden county government in encouraging anybody to tell a mother how to feed her child, whether that’s best practice or regulation.”
“Distraction is not a strong enough word for the real issue at play here. We have been hearing loud and clear from members of our community that this undermines trust in government. It exacerbates a sentiment that Arlington is hostile to child care centers and small businesses.”
Daycare and preschool providers in Arlington are decrying proposed new child care regulations as overly onerous and intrusive.
A 34-page draft of new child care center regulations would set stringent requirements for employee education, require food handling certificates for handing out snacks and would require providers to encourage mothers to breast feed, among numerous other regulatory provisions.
Child care providers — particularly small, part-time operators — are speaking out against the the changes to Chapter 52 of County Code via the county’s online “open comment tool.”
“This document was supposed to clarify things, however, it created more issues,” said one comment.
Many comments focused on new education requirements for the teachers and assistant directors at child care centers. They would have to have a Bachelor’s Degree in education or a similar major and “at least 9 semester credits of advanced study in child development or early childhood education.” Current teachers would have three years to meet that requirement.
The education requirement could financially burden employees, who may have to go back to school to get the necessary credits, and could burden child care centers by raising the cost of hiring new employees, providers said.
“Have you considered the impact this would have on preschools and just how difficult finding teachers with these very narrow qualifications will be?” said one comment. “As former preschool board member who was in charge of hiring for two years, I can tell you that finding highly qualified teachers who are willing to work for preschool pay is already very challenging. You add these new rules and and two thirds of our EXCEPTIONAL staff would not be qualified to teach.”
“I am sure these regulations are well-intentioned and meant to foster excellent Arlington preschools,” said another. “But we already have excellent Arlington preschools. The effect of some of these costly new requirements will be to drastically increase costs, making these excellent schools inaccessible financially for some area families.”
Providers also questioned a requirement that they have a certified food handler on staff if they serve or store food.
“If we need to obtain a license for teachers to distribute Goldfish crackers, this would be unduly burdensome,” said a daycare provider. “We are a part-time center and children are required to bring their lunches from home. The only food we give them are snacks and milk for lunches, if requested.”
Operators of part-time cooperative preschools and daycare centers, which are run largely by volunteers, said that such schools should be exempt from the provisions. Staffing requirements that require specific child-to-adult ratios but only count paid staff, while also prohibiting volunteers from being alone with children, would make it “virtually impossible for parent cooperative preschools to function,” said one commenter.
Some of the most incredulous commentary was reserved for provisions that daycare providers viewed as unnecessary for child safety and overly prescriptive. Among them:
- “The licensee will ensure that mothers are encouraged to breast feed their infants.”
- “The interior of the building must be finished in light or bright colors…”
- “Celebrations (birthdays, special occasions) should include mostly healthy foods or non-food treats.”
- “Children two years of age and older will be served only skim or 1% pasteurized milk.”
- “Staff will promote dental hygiene among children at mealtimes.”
- “Only full-strength (100%) pasteurized fruit juice or full-strength juice diluted with water from a cup will be served to children twelve months of age or older.”
- “… All cribs, cots and mats must be spaced a minimum of 3 feet (36 inches) apart.”
- “[Providers must have a plan for] acquiring, stockpiling, storing and cycling to keep updated emergency food/water and supplies needed to care for children and staff for up to 3 days if shelter-in-place is required…”
- “The licensee will ensure that a trained staff member shall conduct and document a health check of each child every morning upon arrival.”
- “In addition to the application document, the [child care center] must submit… a business plan.”
- “A licensee will have specific arrangements with a health care provider who will provide consultation on both routine and emergency health care issues for children.”
DHS Communications Manager Kurt Larrick has organized the program since 2007. He was called to the front desk after he was told a gentleman had questions about the program.
“I was a little worried at first, but he only had three simple questions for me,” Larrick recalled.
First, the man wanted to know who, specifically, donations assist to ensure money donated stays in the community. Larrick confirmed the donations are strictly for Arlington residents, including low-income families, children in foster care, seniors and people with disabilities.
Next, he asked if any overhead or administrative costs would be taken from the total donation amount. Larrick said he again seemed to give a satisfactory answer, explaining that all donations that come in “go right back out.”
Finally, the man asked if there was a donation limit. Upon hearing there wasn’t, he said he wanted to write a check for $10,000.
“I told him that would be incredible,” Larrick said. “He was a really nice, kind gentleman.”
That $10,000 will be used to purchase hundreds of gift cards for local grocery, clothing, convenience and department stores.
Though the soft deadline for the collection has passed, Larrick said interested residents are still encouraged to contribute to the cause by mailing or hand-delivering donations to DHS.
Last year, the Secret Santa program raised $54,000 in gift cards and donations, and Larrick expects this year’s final count to be about the same. He added the program is mostly supported by small donations from community members of all ages — which are important no matter the amount.
“This donation was obviously huge and very generous,” he said. “But for every donation, big or small, there’s always a great story behind it.”
File photo via Macy’s
Police and paramedics were called to Arlington’s Department of Human Services after a man collapsed and suffered an apparent cardiac arrest in a taxi.
The incident happened just after 2 p.m., outside the DHS building at 2100 Washington Blvd. The man — a 65 year old Arlington resident, according to scanner traffic — was in a Red Top Cab when the driver saw that he was suffering a medical emergency and pulled over.
“The driver noticed that [the passenger] was slumped over in between the seats,” said Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Alvin Guice.
The driver checked on the man and found that he didn’t have a pulse. Someone then ran to the DHS front desk and screamed “call 911,” according to a witness.
“We called 911 to respond to a building visitor who appeared to be in distress,” said DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick.
Passersby helped to pull the man out of the cab so they could render aid, the witness said. By the time paramedics arrived, someone was performing CPR on him. Medics took over and continued performing CPR as they rushed the man to Virginia Hospital Center, where doctors were unable to resuscitate him.
“Unfortunately, he was pronounced [deceased] at the hospital,” Guice said.
Earlier this morning the fire department was called to the Stambaugh Human Services Center Building at 2100 Washington Blvd — also known as Sequoia Plaza building one — to investigate “strong fumes” that were making some employees feel ill.
Firefighters determined that the fumes were coming from an epoxy floor sealant.
DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick said the following DHS offices will be remain closed Monday but are expected to reopen tomorrow:
- Housing Assistance Services, including Housing Grant, Housing Choice Voucher and Real Estate Tax Relief programs
- Community Assistance Bureau and Public Assistance Bureau services
- Public Health clinics
- Child and family services and aging and disability services (All hotlines are still active)
The Arlington Employment Center Resource Room services will be available on the fifth floor of the Arlington Mill Community Center from 1-4 p.m. today, Larrick noted.
Photo via Arlington County
Arlington’s Department of Human Services will now be able to staff its Mental Health Crisis Intervention Center around the clock thanks to a state grant.
DHS received a $222,225 grant, from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, to hire a mental health therapist and a human services specialist, according to a County Board report. The new positions will help keep the Crisis Intervention Center staffed 24 hours a day instead of having on-call staff, said Kurt Larrick, a spokesman with DHS.
“Live coverage is critical in providing individuals in mental health crisis with timely access to services, assessments and treatment, and it helps ensure that law enforcement officers are able to return to service in a timely manner,” according to the Board report.
Police officers will drop off people they suspect have serious mental illnesses at the Crisis Intervention Center, where staff can help connect them with needed services, helping those with possible mental illness to get help instead of jail time.
The center is part of the Crisis Intervention Team, a partnership between DHS and the Arlington County Police Department to help train officers in handling those with suspected mental illnesses and combating mental health stigma.
As of July 23, more than half of ACPD officers were trained to be part of CIT. The training also extends to airport and Pentagon police, as well as other police forces in Northern Virginia and D.C., according to the CIT website.
While CIT has received funding before, this time it had to apply for the grant, Larrick said.
“We have received funding support from the state for this program in the past, but in this instance it was a competitive grant for which we applied and were chosen based on the merits of our program,” he said.
The Crisis Intervention Center has already seen success. There was a 19 percent increase of people brought to the center instead of jail from 2012 to 2014, and the county saves about $5,620 per person with a serious mental illness by keeping them out of jail, according to the Board report.
“Allowing people with serious mental illness to receive treatment in the community as opposed to in a correctional setting, where they are unnecessarily criminalized, results in improved outcomes for the individual in crisis and significant cost savings,” according to the report.
Rep. Beyer Holding Taylor Swift Fundraiser — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is holding a fundraiser with 15-20 guests at tonight’s Taylor Swift concert in D.C. The National Journal says Beyer is “Congress’ biggest Taylor Swift fan.” The Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans pounced on that headline for a punny press release. “When it comes to the national debt and big government regulations, Millennials want to ‘shake it off,'” the AFCYRs wrote. [National Journal, AFCYR]
Arlington Appoints DHS Director — Arlington County Dept. of Human Services deputy director Anita Friedman is getting a promotion. Friedman has been appointed as head of the department by Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz, less than two weeks after Schwartz took over for now-retired County Manager Barbara Donnellan. [Arlington County]
Rosslyn Metro Center Building Sold — The 22-story office building atop the Rosslyn Metro station has sold for $180 million. Rosslyn Metro Center, located at 1700 N. Moore Street, may be due for renovations following the sale. [Washington Business Journal]
Washingtonian Lauds ARLnow — ARLnow.com, along with its sister sites Borderstan, Hill Now and Reston Now, have been honored as the “Best News Blogs” in the D.C. area by Washingtonian. “Obsessive (but not mind-numbing) reporting on communities paid off,” the magazine said of our company’s expansion. Thank you to the staff of Washingtonian for this honor. [Washingtonian]
Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk
For 20 years before that, Hill, who served in New Mexico, Italy and Nuremburg, Germany, was chronically homeless. He had lived on family’s couches and floors, and when he could no longer do that, he slept on the streets of D.C., in shelters in Alexandria and in 24-hour laundromats along Columbia Pike. There were nights he slept in Reagan National Airport, he said; anywhere with a roof and unlocked doors.
Last June, the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, after working with Hill for months getting his finances and documentation in order, found Hill an apartment, secured housing subsidies and provided support to make sure he sustained himself there.
“Housing is the key to ending homelessness,” A-SPAN Executive Director Kathy Sibert told ARLnow.com from her office yesterday. “A lot of the things people take for granted, but just getting up, getting a meal, having clean clothes, maintaining your hygiene, that can take an hour when you’re in a home. When you live on the streets, it could take all day.”
Now, Hill has a place to live and a place to take care of his infant son, who suffers from cerebral palsy and requires round-the-clock attention.
Hill’s plight was far from unique in Arlington and around the country. January’s point-in-time homeless count revealed there are 239 homeless individuals and family in the county, 19 of whom are veterans. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), 12 percent of all homeless people in the U.S. are veterans, about 50,000 total on any given night.
“You come out [of the military] and you’re lost,” Hill said. “In the Army, everyone did everything for you. You didn’t develop skills you need to make your own decisions.”
Homlessness becomes the new normal, he said. Waking up, finding the places that are giving out food, panhandling for money to buy drinks, and finding a safe sleeping spot; all of it becomes a routine that is increasingly difficult to break.
“You can try to change, but for veterans will mental issues, it just takes one incident of something not happening for you, and you go right back into that mode,” he said. Even for homeless people with jobs, finding a place to live is not as easy as it sounds.
To get an apartment, you need valid ID, and proof of income. Hill, who had no need for a car and no place to store files, needed to get a valid ID. For that, he needed a birth certificate, another piece of documentation lost with his home. He needed to apply for a copy of the birth certificate and a copy of his social security cards. All of the ID applications cost money — money he did not have.
That, he said, is how he wound up on the streets for the better part of two decades. Once he relocated himself to Arlington, he immediately found A-SPAN, and the nonprofit immediately got to work finding him a home.
“Veterans don’t broadcast to each other ‘this is where you find the help you need,'” Hill said. “But when I came to Arlington, everyone knew A-SPAN.”
Last year, Arlington completed its successful 100 Homes campaign, housing more than 100 of its chronically homeless. It was part of a nationwide 100,000 homes campaign, which, when it concluded last June, wound up housing 108,000 people. Hill was honored with a ceremony in D.C. — he was the 100,000th person housed in the campaign.
Eisner will leave her post at the end of May, DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick confirmed. She is the latest high-level Arlington staffer to retire, following Police Chief Doug Scott’s announcement in January and County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s announcement last Friday.
Eisner has been with DHS for more than 30 years, joining the Arlington Employment Center in 1984 and working her way up to director in 2005. Although the timing is conspicuous after Donnellan’s announcement last week, a source tells ARLnow.com there’s “nothing sinister here” and that Eisner is just hoping to travel with her new husband.
Eisner immigrated to the United States when she was 8 years old and worked as an immigrant counselor before she joined DHS, her biography says. In DHS, she has served as chief of the Economic Independence Division and served for three years as DHS deputy director before taking over the top job from Marsha Allgeier.
“She is proud to have completed the consolidation of all DHS services here at Sequoia Plaza (Public Health and Behavioral Health are joining us here this summer, joining the rest of the programs that came her in 2010) and maximizing the integration of human services in a centralized location,” Larrick said in an email. She is “also proud of all the work the department has done to strengthen, protect and empower Arlingtonians in need.”
The county has not formally announced Eisner’s retirement. It’s unclear who will take over the department when she leaves her position.
Photo via Arlington County
The county’s Emergency Winter Shelter (EWS) opens for the 2014-2015 season tomorrow (Saturday). This will be the final season for the EWS, as the permanent homeless shelter under construction in Courthouse is set to open in spring.
The EWS will be open for vulnerable residents every day from 4:00 p.m.-9:00 a.m., through March 31. Hours may be extended on especially cold days, which happened during last season’s cold snap. The temporary facility at 2049 15th Street N. accommodates up to 74 people and other nearby facilities can be used as overflow during severe weather.
Arlington County funds the EWS and it is operated by the nonprofit Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), under the supervision of the county’s Department of Human Services. It provides homeless residents with facilities for sleeping, eating, showering and doing laundry.
A-SPAN also will operate the new Homeless Services Center (2020 14th Street N.) when it opens, which is expected to be in April.
“We are anticipating a seamless transition,” said Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick. “A-SPAN will continue to be the service provider and they’ve demonstrated they are great at what they do.”
The goal for employees of the new Homeless Services Center is not only to house homeless residents, but also to identify and tackle the issues that drove a person to homelessness. County agencies and nonprofit partners will continue to provide resources such as employment training, financial management assistance, and treatment for mental health and substance abuse.
“We’ve got a head start on this even before the new center opens – it’s essentially the same approach we used for the recently completed 100 Homes Campaign,” said Larrick. “It’s the approach we use in our Permanent Supportive Housing Programs – where we get the housing piece in place and then ensure that people get the supports they need to maintain their housing.”
In February, the County Board approved a $6.6 million contract for the new Homeless Services Center, and construction began in April. Right now, workers are continuing to repair weather-damaged columns in the former open parking area under part of the second floor. This known issue was part of the contract. Once the building inspector approves the fixes, workers can removed the extra steel supports installed to carry building loads during repairs, and move on to the next phase. Construction is scheduled to wrap up in March, in time for the April opening.
When finished, the shelter will house 50 year round beds on the third floor, with room for an additional 25 beds during the winter. The second floor will have a kitchen and dining area, in addition to a day room and offices for counseling. Floors four through seven will be converted to county offices at a later date.
Construction updates will be posted online.
There are currently about 90 children in Arlington in need of the temporary living arrangement foster families provide. These children are unable to live in their homes for a variety of reasons, such as abuse, neglect or severe family problems. Children may need to stay with a foster family for just a few days or months, or for years.
“We know that it takes a special set of skills to parent a child that’s not your own or has been abused or neglected,” said Alissa Green, Arlington County Resource Family Coordinator.
A particular need exists for families with diverse cultural backgrounds.
“The children who are in care, much like Arlington itself, is a very diverse group. But we have a limited number of minority foster parents,” said Green. “We don’t match children with families based on race, but we like to try to match them culturally, if possible.”
Families willing to take in sibling groups and teenagers also are in high demand. More than 50 percent of Arlington’s foster children are age 13 or older.
The goal is to get foster children back with their families as soon as it’s safely possible. However, sometimes that isn’t the best option and the foster children may be adopted. All parents who qualify to foster in Arlington also are qualified to adopt a child, should the occasion arise.
“Our goal is to find a permanent plan for these kids as soon as possible,” said Green.
The fostering information session will be next Saturday (November 8) from 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. at 2100 Washington Blvd. Anyone interested in attending is asked to RSVP by calling 703-228-1550, or by emailing Erica Serrano at [email protected] Potential foster parents can fill out paperwork at the session, and the next step is to schedule formal training.
The achievement will be celebrated tonight at the annual Community Meeting on Homelessness. The public is welcome to attend the event, which will be held at the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association (NRECA) Conference Center (4301 Wilson Blvd) from 7:00-8:30 p.m. John Harvey, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, will be the keynote speaker. He will talk about Virginia’s efforts to end veteran homelessness by the end of next year. Other speakers include County Board members and State Senator Barbara Favola.
County staff worked with nonprofit organizations to find housing for the people selected for 100 Homes. The following programs allowed for the housing:
- Arlington County Permanent Supportive Housing — 63 housed
- Housing Grant or Housing choice voucher — 12 housed
- Veterans (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Voucher) — 11 housed
- Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing — 13 housed
- Mary Marshall Assisted Living Residence — 1 housed
“This is an important milestone in our efforts to prevent and end homelessness,” said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette. “It’s wonderful to see residents, nonprofit groups, faith-based organizations, the business community and County government coming together to make a difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Of the 100 residents housed since the program launched in 2011, 93 continue to live in the housing. Many of them had been on the streets for years and had difficulty accessing and maintaining housing.
“The retention rate has been remarkable,” said Kathy Sibert, president and chief executive officer of Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN). “The key to this success is the supportive services that come with the housing. Case managers have done an outstanding job working with the clients to address issues like managing finances, maximizing employment and benefits, and connecting with mental health and substance abuse services.”
Just because the 100 Homes Campaign reached its goal does not mean the push to end homelessness in Arlington is finished. There will be a new initiative announced at tonight’s public meeting, called “Zero: 2016.” Arlington is joining the nationwide effort to end veteran and chronic homelessness.
“The [100 Homes] legacy will live on,” said Arlington Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick. “We learned a lot during the campaign, and partnered with a lot of great nonprofits, and we are carrying forward a lot of the concepts we learned.”
The Arlington County Board will decide next Tuesday whether to approve leasing an additional 72,742 square feet in the three buildings at Sequoia Plaza — 3,469 square feet in Sequoia Plaza Building 1, 10,994 square feet in Building 2 and all 58,279 square feet of Building 3. The county’s lease for this space, in additional to a renewal of the current 144,740 square feet it occupies in Building 1, would run through June 2030.
The additional space will occupy DHS programs currently housed in five buildings around the county, including three within walking distance of Virginia Hospital Center. The buildings and programs are as follows:
- Clarendon House, 3141 10th Street N.; Community-based rehabilitation of individuals with serious mental illnesses
- Drewry Center, 1725 N. George Mason Drive; Behavioral Healthcare Division mental health, substance abuse, and psychiatric services
- Edison Complex, adjacent to Virginia Hospital Center; Emergency services, Crisis Intervention Center of the Behavioral Healthcare Division
- Fenwick Center, 800 S. Walter Reed Drive; Communicable disease investigation, environmental health, administration for Public Health Division
- George Mason Center, 1801 N. George Mason Drive; Behavioral Healthcare Division administration and conference rooms
“Moving these programs into Sequoia Plaza will enable DHS to provide most of its services in one place, achieving operating efficiencies and offering convenience to DHS clients,” according to a report from county staff. “Clients in need of services that are provided in different locations currently must commute between the locations. That is highly inconvenient for the many DHS clients who lack vehicles or are disabled.”
Arlington says that despite these programs going from 83,850 square feet to 72,742, the space is adequate because Sequoia Plaza “is laid out more efficiently so that less floor area is required.” The base rent in the first year for the new space adds up to more than $2.2 million per year, which is projected to increase by 3.05 percent through the lease for Buildings 2 and 3 and 2.75 percent per year for the remaining space in Building 1.
The county has allocated $11.6 million for renovations to Sequoia Plaza, but the staff report says the consolidation of departments will “allow the County to avoid significant capital investments at the buildings being vacated.”
Photo via DHS
Across the country, the boom in unaccompanied minors emigrating from Central America has caused federal authorities to devote more resources to border protection and enforce stricter deportation policies.
While one Arlington official is calling the growth in this population a “crisis,” most say we’re not there yet. Nonetheless, the county is monitoring the situation and making preparations before such immigrants start to have an impact.
Last week, the Sun Gazette reported that School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez and County Board member Walter Tejada met with representatives from the Guatemalan Consulate to discuss the trend of unaccompanied minor immigrants, and, after the meeting, Violand-Sanchez told the School Board it was a “crisis situation.”
Tejada told ARLnow.com this morning that, while he wouldn’t characterize Arlington’s current population of unaccompanied minors as a crisis, the county is taking steps to prepare in case the population grows substantially.
“We’re organizing right now and saying, ‘how do we deal with this, what issues are we confronting?'” Tejada said. “The most important question is the welfare of the kids. How do we protect the children from being taken advantage of and falling into the wrong world? It’s a very complicated situation.”
According to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos, there were only 10 students identified as “homeless/unaccompanied youth” in the last school year. There were also 83 students in APS’ “Accelerated Literacy Support” program as of June, for older students new to the country who need additional literary support. That number increased from 22 students in June 2012.
“Because we are currently on summer break, we may not know the full impact on APS of the immigration of youth from Central America until the end of August and/or later in the 2014-15 school year,” Erdos said in an email. “We know that we need to be prepared to address this, given the reports in the media, and the response from the President and the federal government. We are also watching the situation closely because we know this may have a major impact on our operating budget.”
Arlington’s Department of Human Services hasn’t seen an increase in unaccompanied minors, according to department spokesman Kurt Larrick. There are always a few who come to the county every year, Larrick said, and those “tend to be older, they tend to have had a rough life at home.”
“I don’t think we’re at a crisis now by any means,” Larrick said. “We’re a long way from the Central American border so I don’t think it’s as acute locally as in other parts of the country.”
Both Larrick and Erdos said Arlington is an appealing destination for many of these immigrants because of its reputation for being welcoming, which dates back to accepting Vietnamese refugees during and after the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
Tejada said it’s impossible to know if the immigrants will eventually come to Arlington in large numbers, but instead of “being reactionary” as the county has been in the past to similar issues, this time the county is being proactive. Tejada said the county plans to organize “mobile Consulates” from different countries with populations in Arlington, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, in August.
“We’re alerting our partners to stand by,” Tejada said. “There will be a call to action at some point, but we have to be careful not to put out a false call when there is no need.”
Morgan Fecto contributed to this report
Reginald Lawson, Arlington Department of Human Services’ supervisor of Adult Protective Services, oversees the department’s handling of hoarding cases, and he has a favorite story he likes to tell from his work.
“There was this person with some severe hoarding going on, and he had to be placed in a care facility,” Lawson said. “This person had such a great support network, they went through as a team and cleared out his place. There might have been one person who organized the clothes, another person went through the refrigerator. It may have taken a month, but the person was brought back to their home.”
Lawson sits on Arlington’s Hoarding Task Force along with staff from the Arlington County Fire Department and Arlington Code Enforcement. The three departments all deal with cases of hoarding throughout the county, depending on what the situation calls for. According to DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick, ACFD responds when there’s a fire hazard or medical emergency, Code Enforcement responds when there’s a building code violation and DHS gets involved if the hoarder has health, psychological or mental issues.
Hoarding entered the popular consciousness largely from the reality television program “Hoarders” on A&E, which documents cases of extreme hoarding and shows interventions to try to get the hoarders to change their ways. The vast majority of hoarding cases, however, are not filmed for TV nor do they often even make the news. There are about 40-65 hoarding cases per year in Arlington alone, officials say.
Hoarding, which is a problem in communities across the country, was thought to be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder as early as 1980. It was recognized as its own mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders last year.
“When I came here eight years ago, my supervisor was one of the mental health experts on hoarding,” Lawson said. “I thought it was a term that we coined within Arlington County. We used to call hoarders ‘pack rats’ back when I was growing up in Louisiana. At the bare minimum now, people are more aware it’s an issue and a real disorder.”
The Hoarding Task Force was formed in 2003, and Patty Durham, DHS’s assistant director, has served as its chair for the past nine years. She emphasizes that the task force is just a place where representatives from the three agencies get together to talk about the cases they’ve worked, and serves exclusively as an administrative body.
“The discussion we have is sharing information about what’s happened so far in the case, so we know where we’re starting from, then we’re talking about where or when there’s an intervention,” Durham said. “If there’s [mental] competency or not competency, that comes into play. You can’t do things against people’s will if there’s competency. It’s a matter of understanding where the case is and understanding what can be done.”
Hoarding calls typically run the gamut from a false alarm of someone who has an unusually cluttered yard or apartment, to extreme cases where papers, boxes and other items are stacked in every room in the house, blocking doorways and endangering the structural stability of the building.
According to the International OCD Foundation, studies have shown that about 4 percent of the population suffers from hoarding disorder. Larrick said “The line between a messy lifestyle and hoarding is usually crossed when the person’s ability to function adequately is compromised.”
“If someone is no longer able to cook meals at home, if they can’t live safely in their own home or if they pose a safety risk to others,” are indicators that an individual has a hoarding problem, not a clutter problem. “Most people hoard items because they think the items have value and don’t want them to go to waste. Many hoarders consider themselves information junkies so the items they hoard tend to be newspapers, magazines, brochures and other information-rich items. Emotional attachment is the third most common reason for hoarding. Objects can have a sentimental association to important persons, places or events in the hoarder’s life.” (more…)